French Fur Trade Term Paper

Pages: 9 (2822 words)  ·  Style: Turabian  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Native Americans

¶ … discovery of the "New World" came an increased need for European nations be competitive for resources. The concept of mercantilism that drove European political and economic understanding argued that there were limited resources and that power is granted to the class of individuals who can first recover this source of wealth. When French and English governments saw that the Spanish returned from America filled with reservoirs of precious metals and gold, they also wanted to be included in the wealth of discovery. Even as Columbus continued to comb the West Indies, both France and England sent explorative teams to the northern reaches of the American continent. Through their discoveries one of the most important early products from America was commoditized. By the time the Pilgrims of England stepped upon the shores of Plymouth Rock in 1620, the French explorer Etienne Brule had already skirted the shores of Lake Superior, becoming the first to explore the middle reaches of North America (Belden, 32). The development of the fur trade occurred organically and was one of the earliest and most important industries. It provided the essential pathways and connections for Native American relationships (Innis, preface). The fur industry played a major role in the development of United States and Canadian commerce for more than three hundred years.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Term Paper on French Fur Trade Assignment

At its initial inception, the fur trade began in the late 1500s as a method of exchange between Native Americans and Europeans. Although the practice was initially thought as an appeasement practice with the Indians, Europeans, and the French especially soon realized the potential profits in fur. They were able to trade Indians for valuable amounts of fur for only the exchange of basic tools and weapons. At the time, beaver fur was especially profitable within the European market; the French were the first to realize that the trade in fur would be just as lucrative as possible discoveries of gold and other rare materials. Beaver fur at the time was used for felt hats, and the fur trade in general as the majority of scarves and hats was made in animal fur (Innis, 5). In effect, the fur trade brought about a revolution in both a macro and micro economic terms. From a macroeconomic perspective it changed the demand within Europe, where the original focus was split between silk and other materials from the orients and traditional fur, the new abundance and ready supply provided through the fur trade encouraged Europeans to switch over to this alternative (Belden, 45). As a result, an entire industry was born as the direct consequence of the North American fur trade. At the same time, a strong microeconomic revolution was occurring in North America itself. The traditionally nomadic Native American population began to rely upon fur trading as a method for livelihood, and Europeans consequently started a vibrant trading partnership based upon fur trading outposts. Entire communities soon began to be built around the founding principle of fur trading. The French more than any other European group dominated fur trading, especially within Canada and Middle America (Belden, 51). They developed strong relationships with Native American tribes throughout the Great Lakes region and built communities and a complex transportation system for the distribution of fur trade.

The fur trade finally died out in the mid-1800's as the overabundance of poaching led to the scarcity of fur bearing animals in North America. Yet in the intermediate three hundred years, the fur trade dramatically changed the livelihoods, cultures and the entire direction of people in many different cultures (Innis, preface). The following analysis will examine the impact of the French fur trade and its implicit affect on the culture and geographic system of North America.

The earliest fur traders in North America were French explorers and fisherman in the far reaches of Eastern Canada in the early 1500's. These French explorers in their efforts to connect with the Native American population as well as capitalize on their new found relationships discovered the most profitable format of trade (Anderson, npg). They exchanged such items as kettles, knives and other gifts as a means to establish strong relationships. The mutual exchange of value created a greater surge of demand for such goods in Europe, and as a direct result of interest in Fur, further French exploration took place in the United States (Innis, 18). The demand for beaver was especially rampant throughout Europe, the French had already been the traditional providers of exotic furs for the rest of Europe and they saw the Native American network as an ideal addition to their expansion plans. The interest in fur expanded for beavers to fox, marten, mink and otter. The escalation consumer demand in Europe spurred French exploration and relationship building.

The impact of this increased demand was dramatic from both the perspective of the French exploration teams and the Native American population. For the French, the exploration of the New World was no longer a fascinating escape, but rather a serious economic institution. As a result, French explorers became much more entrepreneurial in nature. In 1608, the French explorer Samuel de Champlain became the first to establish a trading post on the present day city of Quebec (Innis, 40). Canada became the ideal centralized location for fur trading because the cold climate resulted in massive quantities of fur bearing creatures. Quebec became the center for the fur trade as it expanded along the St. Lawrence River and around the Great Lakes. French colonies in North America became centered around the fur trade, and their development and spread throughout the continent always surrounded river streams that would allow them send back furs collected throughout their expeditions (Innis, 42). The entire French community within North America centered around trading destinations, especially along the Mississippi River, as a result, French presence led to their ownership and exploration of the majority of the Great Plains and the Midwest.

From a geographical perspective, the French fur trade also dramatically changed the Native American demographic and social focus as well. Their access to previously unattainable goods as a result of trade led Native Americans to slowly begin depending upon the fur trade as a mechanism of survival (Rich, npg). Traditionally strong nomadic tribes became rooted in certain locations in order to provide permanency in their trading relationships. A complex social and economic system evolved from the fur trade. Indian tribes such as the Huron and Ottawa tribes became what were known as "intermediates." They took on the role of being domesticated tribesman who rooted themselves in certain locations. They became the intermediaries between the French and other tribes that had an overabundance of trappers (Rich, npg). The domestication of many intermediary tribes led to a changing cultural dynamic, as more Native Americans became assimilated into the society and culture of Europeans (Belden, 114). At the same time, the trading population of other tribes increased exponentially. Farming and nomadic tribesmen were cast aside for fur trappers, the trade heralded lucrative returns in European goods and weaponry that dramatically influenced the status of tribal warfare and culture as well.

The fur trade dramatically changed the social dynamics of Native Americans tribes and changed the geo-political relationships. While traditionally warfare between tribes was the basis of power within the Great Lakes region, fur trading and wealth emerged as the dominant drivers of status (Innis, 89). Those tribes that were able to obtain the most fur were then able to build strong relationships with the French. As a direct result they gained the enhanced European weaponry to gain dominance over their region. Through the fur trading system, tribal dominance became a matter of alliances with the Europeans and the reliance upon technology advantages in weaponry (Innis, 91).

The Iroquois tribe of the Great Lakes region rose into supreme power as a result of the fur trade; they gained the advantage of modern weaponry and were able to unite the tribes like no other force before them.

Although the French were the first to populate the concept of fur trading, they were not the only players. The influence of their success and the wealth they generated led to English settlers resorting to similar economic strategies. Settlers developed a fur trade in what is now New England and Virginia. They formed alliances with the Iroquois and soon began to compete directly with the French. The fur trade became a strong area of contention and competition between the English and the French (Anderson, npg). Much of the animosity that was developed in the colonies against the French resulted in mutual border disputes on known trapping areas. However, despite the national level tensions between the English and the French, the effect on the colonial population was minimal. In fact, the fur trade had a strong impact on relationship building between French traders and English merchants (Rich, npg). While French traders were the facilitators of the trade, as they controlled routes along the Mississippi, the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence, they lacked the formal business acumen… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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